Opinion

The Day I Was Invited to Celebrate With Hebron Settlers

Weren’t these criminals who expels and abuse Palestinians just a small handful of people 50 years ago? Why don’t we come in our hundreds to stand up to them?

Israel flags are seen on a house after they were hung by Israeli settlers in Hebron, in the West Bank March 27, 2018
\ MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/ REUTERS

“Today, let’s place Hebron above our highest joy,” my friend Ram Cohen said to me as we set out during Passover this year to spend the day together. And so, in a good-natured, ironic and cynical mood, we traveled the few dozen kilometers separating Jerusalem from Hebron and its adjacent Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba.

We passed the fenced-in, frightfully crowded ghetto of the Al-Arroub Palestinian refugee camp and the intimidating pillbox that overlooks the dangerous intersection without traffic signals at the village of Beit Omar. We also passed the well-marked junctions with traffic signals near the string of West Bank Jewish settlements that are expanding from both sides of Highway 60, followed by Palestinian villages and towns where there were no signs indicating what their names were.

I can’t say whether at that point our mood had already been spoiled or not. In any event, when, with mischievous cunning, we went through all of the Israeli checkpoints, we were told not to go in a passenger car to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, but rather to instead feel free to join the hundreds and thousands of Jews who were provided free transportation on buses that day, and we joked around that arrogant people like us purportedly know where we are and where they are: We are at the top of the moral ladder and they are at the bottom. We are open-eyed people with good sense, really special people, while they have been brainwashed. That’s how we have continued to cling to our rightful place in the ugly reality: that we and those like us still live in safety and comfort in the State of Israel.

It’s better not to boast before going out to battle, as you would afterwards. I had already pondered this worn but wise Hebrew saying. And in fact, when we got out of the car in one of the alleys next to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, I stopped laughing as I saw my fellow Jews, old and young, mothers, fathers and children, rejoicing and celebrating, family after family. In virtually every square meter from the plaza in front of the tomb to the top of Shuhada Street and the approaches to the Tel Rumeida neighborhood, there were male and female soldiers and police in helmets and with knee guards, machine guns at the ready.

I knew it. For the time being, they were laughing last, those masses celebrating here. And even if they were brainwashed, and even if they are not the equivalent of the wise child of the Passover Haggadah but rather the one who does not know to ask, and even if in the end they too would stop laughing in the face of the disaster that we will ultimately all face here – nevertheless, I am the defeated one. Because even if I live a long life and witness the disaster, I will not be among the victors celebrating after battle.

Because here I am, alone with Ram in terrible isolation, casting glances in shock and shame and disgrace at the few Palestinians in the city – mostly women and toddlers and students returning from school – who dare to make their way in the street past the shuttered stores and the checkpoints and the Jews reveling in their holiday. There are also other Palestinians who, with expressionless faces from behind the bars of the balconies and windows of their homes, peer out at the Jewish visitors in their touring vans on Shuhada Street, a thoroughfare that they themselves have been barred from using for years.

Yes, the two of us are alone here, because where are those thousands of Israelis from our political camp? Why aren’t they here to protest and to rain on this violent parade, to put a spoke in the wheel of this ongoing pogrom? Where have they been all these years? How is it that they have permitted this fascist, Jewish, thuggish stronghold – and this first West Bank settlement in the West Bank is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its establishment this year – to expel hordes of people? Why don’t most of those in the other political camp at least come here to see for themselves the horror that is taking place here under the auspices of Israeli army soldiers – their children and grandchildren? All of our children and grandchildren.

In the Tel Rumeida neighborhood, Jewish children celebrated in a colorful playground that was built for them, with a shark in the middle that was looking out over Arab Hebron. I peeked through a crack in the locked iron gate at a little Palestinian girl who was looking back from the other side. Her father opened the gate and invited us to come in, then quickly closed it at the edge of the small yard where the young family sat confined, and perhaps also protected a bit by a stone fence that had been cracked in a number of places by the army vehicles that pass by it through a narrow ally.

The family’s home is also their fortress. No, they will not budge from here, the father and mother vowed. They will withstand the detentions, the forced unemployment, the humiliations involved every time they go out into the hostile Jewish world that rose up against them to contain them, the body searches, the walk along the narrow iron gauntlet of machine gun barrels and even the lethal assaults on fellow Palestinians. Abdel Fattah al-Sharif was shot to death by the Israeli soldier Elor Azaria in March of last year right next to the yard. And I told myself that unlike me, they are not defeated.

When we went back down Shuhada Street, I noticed that along the high fence separating the Jewish community in Hebron from the surviving street of the Arab market, there was one gate that was open. We approached it and were immediately warmly invited by the Israeli soldiers standing there to join the Jewish celebrants who were just leaving to tour the Arab city with the spokesman for the Hebron Jewish community, Noam Arnon. How lucky for us.

We really were enticed and a few moments later Ram and I had joined them, alone as ever but dragged along after them and paying attention as if against our will to the sophisticated mix of sugar-coating and venom that Noam plied to his attentive group.

We became isolated more than before, because we were quickly separated by dozens of patrolmen and soldiers and police who were guarding them. And I found myself slowly tagging along at the end of the procession, looking on in amazement at this absurd, tragic and foolish spectacle. And the most tormenting thought of all returned and took hold of me: Where are the thousands of you whose views are similar to mine?

After all, there are many thousands of you. How have you, how have we, allowed this thing that has no parallel anywhere else to arise and gain strength like this and for its instigators to expel, plunder and abuse? Weren’t these criminals just a small handful of people 50 years ago? And now masses of Israelis are coming to celebrate with them.

Why don’t we come in our hundreds to stand up to them and face the army that is protecting them in our name?